Leadership Barometer 49 Maximize Discretionary Effort

May 8, 2020

Every day when people go to work in organizations, or work from home, they give effort to further the cause of the group. That is about as much as we can say for the general population.

The amount of effort as a percentage of what is available varies greatly from one person to another and from one organization to another. The effort for one particular person also varies significantly from one point in time to another.

Each of us has a vast storehouse of “discretionary” effort that we either give or withhold on a daily basis. Let’s examine the factors that govern why some people freely choose to give a lot more of their discretionary effort to their organization while others, equally qualified, habitually hold back most of their potential.

Of course, it has to do with motivation. On any given day, some of us are motivated to go above and beyond the requirements and others are turned off.

Can you imagine the power if there was a way to have most people in the organization fully engaged in the work and motivated most of the time? The result would be a huge productivity improvement for any organization.

The interesting thing to me is that the formula for giving maximum discretionary effort is different for each of us. No two people are completely alike, although there are many things that universally turn people off, the formula for turning an individual on is personal.

What follows is a method to discover your key to maximum discretionary effort.

First, visualize a time in your life when you performed at a peak level for an extended period of time of your own free will. Remember the circumstances by which you compelled yourself to put forth incredible effort, often with little rest or breaks.

Try to identify what it was in that set of circumstances that enabled you to perform at that level. Here are some examples of what people have thought of for this exercise:

• I had to do it because it needed to be done, and I was the only one that could do it.
• It was a huge challenge; I was told it was impossible.
• I felt empowered; finally I was cut loose to do it my way.
• It was just important for me to get this done.
• I was aspiring to prove something to myself.
• I had to show them what I was made of.
• It was do or die, so I did.
• My team believed in me, so I had to do it.
• I understood the goal and it was important to me.

Keep working at it until you have identified the true essence of what enabled you to perform at that level. Write it down in one single sentence.

The sentence you wrote will be your personal specification for giving your maximum discretionary effort. Many times in life you can configure work to align with this kind of statement. When you do, you will instinctively be performing with at least twice the productivity of your usual pace.

The beauty of this simple exercise comes when you do it as a group activity. I recall one meeting where I had a corporate Vice President with his whole team, and we did this exercise. It turns out the VP was most energized when he had to parachute into the jungle with a knife between his teeth.

His subordinates were turned on when they were trusted and empowered to get things done in their own way.

The ensuing discussion revealed why there had been so much tension in the organization. Subsequent coaching of the VP led to much higher performance among his direct reports.

You can do this experiment at any level in the organization. Not only will it help you understand yourself better, it will also give you new insight into how to lead your employees.



The preceding information was adapted from the book, The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com


Leadership Barometer 45 Stop Micromanaging

April 5, 2020

Leaders who micromanage do so with the best of intentions. Unfortunately they seldom recognize that what they are doing is actually taking the organization in a direction they do not want to go.

The problem is that by micromanaging people, the manager is severely limiting performance rather than optimizing it, so the manager is operating at cross purposes to the actual goal.

Unwittingly the manager is removing incentive for effort and creativity on the part of the employee. We are so familiar with this problem simply because it is so prevalent in organizations. In this article, I seek to contrast micromanagement versus trust to give some insight on how the latter leads to greatly enhanced performance.

To micromanage someone implies a lack of trust. The manager is not confident the employee can or will do a job correctly, so the employee is besieged with “helpful” instructions from the manager on exactly how to perform tasks. At first, the intrusion is irritating to the employee, who has her own ideas on how to do the job. After a while, it simply degenerates into an opportunity to check out mentally and join the legion of disenchanted workers doing what they are told and collecting a paycheck. This leaves the employee’s power on the door step of the organization every day.

To trust an employee is to think enough of the person to treat him or her as a thinking person who can have good ideas if given a goal and some broad operating parameters. In an environment of trust, employees have the freedom to explore, innovate, create, stretch, and yes, sometimes make mistakes. These mistakes might be thought of as waste, but enlightened leaders think of them simply as learning opportunities.

Here are 9 ideas that can help leaders and managers reduce the tendency to micromanage, thus unleashing a greater portion of the power available to the organization.

1. Set clear goals and make sure your employees have the basic skills and tools to do the job
2. Be clear on the broad constraints within which the employee must operate. In other words, do not let the employee try to conquer the world with a tuna-fish can.
3. Express trust in the employee and encourage creativity and risk taking as long as the risks are well-considered and safe.
4. Reject the temptation to step in if the employee seems to struggle, rather make yourself available if there are any questions or requests for help
5. Provide the resources the employee needs to accomplish the tasks
6. Do not totally overload the employee with so many duties and projects that she cannot succeed at any of them
7. Express praise and gratitude for positive baby steps along the way
8. Give the employee time and space to try different approaches without having to explain why she is doing every step
9. If problems occur, consider them as learning experiences and ask the employee to describe how she would do things differently next time

These 9 ideas are all simple, but they are nearly impossible for a micromanager to accomplish without constant effort. The concept of trusting employees does involve some risk, but the rewards of having people working up to their full potential rather than just complying is well worth that risk. You will see better, faster, and more robust solutions if you trust people and let their natural talents surface in an environment of little micromanagement.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Tips to Avoid Being Micromanaged

March 12, 2019

You have probably been in a situation where you have felt micromanaged. You were given something to do, but then badgered about exactly how to do it.

This happens more in low trust groups, and it often creates a further degradation in trust. We usually fault the manager for this problem because he or she is the one hovering and giving the minute and detailed orders on how to do the job.

While it is usually a overzealous manager who is the root cause of micromanagement, there are several things the employee can do to mitigate the problem. This article is about those things you might try if you have an intrusive manager.

I once worked for a manager who was the king of all micromanagers. I learned about his reputation before ever going to work for him. During my first few weeks, I went way overboard in my preparation.

I would anticipate any potential question he might have and be prepared with data to support my conclusions. When he would suggest something to try, I usually could say, “it has already been done.”

I would communicate my plans to him every day (including weekends) and ask lots of questions about what was wanted. He never had an opportunity to get to me because I always got to him first. After a while, he basically left me alone and did not micromanage me very much for the next 25 years. We got along great, while he continued to micromanage others.

This experience led me to create a list of tips you can use to reduce the tendency for a boss to micromanage you. Granted, this will not be 100% effective in all cases, but these steps can really help reduce the problem to a manageable level. Note: I will use the male pronoun here for simplification, but the same concepts would apply for both genders.

1. Anticipate what the manager will suggest

Work to understand the point of view of the manager, and figure out the suggested methods so when he says, “Do it this way,” often you can say, “That’s exactly how I am doing it. Or you might say, I tried doing it that way, but it created too much scrap, so I am now doing it a better way.

2. Be sure you are clear on the expectations

Often the manager has been somewhat vague on the precise deliverable. Before going off to do a task, take extra time to verify what the boss really wants in the end. If it is a long or complex set of activities, see if you can get some sub-goals that you can deliver along the way. Go the extra mile to identify not only what the objective is but if the manager has any preference for how the solution will appear.

3. Get to the boss before he gets to you

This technique really helps when you have a voice mail or text connection with the boss. Get familiar with the timing of communications and preempt the instructions with a note of your own. For example, if the boss has a habit of catching up on his micromanaging tasks during the lunch hour, simply provide an update to him at about 11 a.m. every day.

4. If the boss is getting intrusive, surprise him

It stops a micromanager dead in his tracks when he tries to tell you how to do step 3 and you tell him you are already on step 8. Step 3 was done yesterday, and the results were supplied to him in his e-mail inbox. The boss is blown away that you made so much progress.

5. Seek to build a trusting relationship with the micromanager

Micromanagement has its roots in inadequate trust. If the boss really trusts you, it means there will be less worry on his part that you will do things incorrectly. That means you are left alone to do things your way.

6. Call him on it

The boss needs to understand that for you to be empowered and give your best effort to the organization, you need to be free to use your own initiative. I knew a technician who brought a set of handcuffs into the office. Whenever his boss would try to micromanage him, he would just pull out the cuffs and slip them on. The message was loud and clear, “if you want me to do this well, don’t tie my hands.”

My rule of thumb on micromanaging is that credibility and communication allow you to manage things as you see fit. Lack of credibility and communication often lead to being micromanaged.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Teaming

October 17, 2016

If you have ever played a sport for a major university, you will identify with the concept of teaming. You may have also encountered great teamwork in a group within your community, church, or job. It’s the kind of thing we all recognize and appreciate.

Unfortunately, in the work setting, I often observe a kind of hollow team situation where people talk about a strong team but do not model team behaviors daily.

The good news is that really great teamwork only needs one ingredient. The bad news is that the one thing is great leadership, which is extremely rare. That explains why so few teams actually reach greatness. Let me explain why great leadership ensures an effective team.

Great leaders instinctively know that excellent teamwork requires four things and they do not rest until the team has all four elements in place.

1. A common goal. Every person on the team needs to buy into the goal 100%. The group needs a purpose, and that purpose must be evident in every activity.

2. Trust. People on the team must trust each other. This is where leadership is critical. First of all, an excellent leader will not allow a person on the team who will not participate fully in the work of the team. The leader recognizes that trust is built by him or her and always models trustworthy behavior.

3. Team Behaviors. All team members buy into the stated behaviors including the fact that they will contribute to the work of the team without fail. There is zero tolerance for “social loafing,” where some members let others carry most of the load.

4. Spirit – A great team exudes a kind of electricity that is amazing to watch. They know that they have found something extremely rare in this group, and each person crackles with excitement about what is being accomplished by the group. There is no hogging of credit, because each person knows it is the group performance that is creating the greatness.

Great team leaders are a rare breed. You will find all kinds of pseudo leaders who make feeble attempts at getting cohesiveness. They fail to produce the scintillating results because one or more of the critical elements above is missing.

The logical question to ask is why more leaders do not achieve the greatness that is available to them. Four typical excuses leaders use for lackluster performance

1. Time: The element of time is often used as an excuse. Leaders are so busy with tasks that must be done, and the complexity of a virtual world, that taking the time to do the simple blocking and tackling of setting up a great team seems out of reach.

The paradox is that the time investment really pays off in an easier life in the end. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not possible, but by pursuing perfection excellence can be achieved.”

2. Dedication: Another reason given for poor teamwork is that not all team members are dedicated. This is also a lame excuse that again comes back to leadership. Most team members will respond well if they are well led. The sheer joy and relief of serving on an excellent team is reward enough to make most people gladly toe the line with a smile on tasks to be done.

Occasionally you will run into a rotten apple, but a great leader sees this and quickly expels the laggard so he or she does not poison other members of the team.

3. Unrealistic Expectations: A favorite excuse for poor performance is that too much is expected of the team. The paradox here is that smart leaders set really aggressive goals for their teams.

Actually, great teams routinely accomplish feats that seem impossible. They rise up and astound everyone watching, including themselves, with what can be done with focus and the right spirit. Things that previously would take a year can be done in a matter of a few days, and the team revels in the glory.

4. Toxic Environment: Another favorite excuse for not performing well is a toxic environment at a higher level. Team leaders complain that there is so much micromanaging and confusion from above that the team is habitually demoralized.

This excuse is pretty handy, but it does not stand up to real scrutiny. Great leaders know how to advocate for the needs of the team and simply refuse to let upper management mess things up. Sometimes this means taking great heat, but excellent leaders do this gladly because they know team performance will soon provide all the cover they need.

There is a myth that achieving great teamwork is such hard work that you might as well give up at the outset. The truth is that achieving outstanding teamwork through excellent leadership is so joyful that the investment in some effort at the start is a small price to pay for the benefits that ultimately accrue to all team members once the group clicks.

It becomes easy rather than difficult to manage such a group to accomplish great things.

If you are the leader of a team that is not working well, I urge you to not make the excuses above or make up any others. Rather, seek to establish the four things in this article and reap the benefits of an amazing group of people that make up your team. It is the quality of your leadership rather than any other factor that will make the difference.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The Strangest Secret

December 7, 2013

RumorIf you are pursuing a worthy goal, you are probably feeling pretty good about yourself, even if you are sometimes exhausted or discouraged along the way.

As Lou Holtz once said “When we feel the best about ourselves is when we went the extra mile, when we lay our head on the pillow late at night worn out and exhausted, but we know we paid the supreme price.” That statement is what effort toward a goal feels like much of the time.

When you reach your goal, after you celebrate, it is important to set a new one fairly soon, so you do not drift.

This rule for living comes from numerous philosophers, including Earl Nightingale, a member of the International Speakers Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. Earl produced several books on personal leadership and wrote over 7,000 radio and television commentaries on how we can lead better lives.

His famous program “Lead The Field” is my all time favorite program for inspiration. It is available through The Nightingale Conant Company.

Here is the secret to a long and prosperous life (in every sense). When we are being “successful” is when we are pursuing a worthy goal. Earl discovered this law several decades ago.

His famous “strangest secret” is only six words long….”We become what we think about.” As we put forth extreme effort in pursuit of our goals, that is what gives meaning to life.

When we reach the goal, it is like a signpost along the road that we have arrived at that point in our life. It is right and smart to take a deep breath and celebrate with our loved ones who have supported us in the challenging times.

Take some time to rest and to feel the great peace that comes from achieving your goal. Share the credit, because you did not do it alone.

Now comes the crucial part. Do not let too many days go by before you set your next goal in life. It may be completely different from the one just achieved.

For example, someone who has studied for years to get an advanced degree may set a goal to climb a mountain, or to become an excellent speaker, or an artist.

The point is to not rest on the past achievement of a worthy goal too long. It is the next goal that must be envisioned, because that is how we get the most value from life. Without a worthy goal we quickly lose the real zest of life.

Think of it this way…”The road is better than the inn,” or “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Thornton T. Munger wrote,” There is no road to success but through a clear, strong purpose. Nothing can take its place. A purpose underlies character, culture, position, attainment of every sort.”

Once you have set your goal, it is time to lay out your strategy for achieving it. This strategy is so valuable because it will help you regulate your effort to focus energy on the necessary tasks to attain it and not become distracted with other activities that cause overload.

You know when you are stretched too thin if performance starts to lag. It is really a fascinating area of life. We can always add another activity, but at some point we would be better off taking something off the plate.

If we create a solid strategy for our life, then we will know what things to add and what things to prune. It is a really important concept in living well, and it is one that many people just arrive at by default. The most accomplished people do not leave it to chance, rather they own their destiny.

What you achieve in life is a function of how you run your life. Make sure you have a worthy goal at all times. Celebrate the achieving of one goal by setting a new one.

Combine the goal with a focusing strategy, and you will be amazed at the level of achievement and satisfaction you can pack into your precious years on this planet.